CAPT. GREENLEAF H. DAVIS. Many times the name and career of Captain Davis have been made subjects of articles in the general press and other publications. He is a most interesting character not only in Quincy but in all the Middle West. Not nearly so much romance surrounds the building of railroads in modern times as it did when Captain Davis was a pioneer in pushing along some of the old railway systems. He is about the last survivor of that group of railroad builders who constructed the old Illinois Central and some of the main branches of what is now the great Burlington system. Captain Davis was born in Stafford County, New Hampshire, March 16, 1834. He is of old New Hampshire stock. His grandfather, Nathaniel Davis, spent his life as a New Hampshire farmer. Captain Davis’ parents were natives of the same state and were also farmers there during their lives.
Captain Davis was educated in New Hampshire, and lived there until about eighteen years old, when he came to Chicago. In 1851 he did his first work as a pioneer railroad builder with the old Illinois Central road while it was being constructed from Chicago to Kankakee, Illinois. He was at first in the track laying department, and subsequently was assigned to charge of the supply department at Muddy Creek. Such was his ability that he was able to reduce his working force to half and increase the efficiency of the department. After getting the department in working order he was assigned to superintendent of the track laying force, and his wages were more than doubled. He carried the tracks of the Illinois Central on as far as Centralia, Illinois, and about that time was offered the position of roadmaster. He declined because of a previous contract he had made to assist in laying the rails of the old Northern Cross Railway, now that part of the Burlington between Galesburg and Quincy.
Captain Davis began track laying for the Northern Cross Railway in 1855, and had the work completed between Galesburg and Quincy by about the first of January, 1856. He then accepted the responsibility of laying the track on the old Hannibal and St. Joseph Railway, a distance of 206 miles across the northern half of Missouri. He was three years in building this pioneer line, and when it was completed he was offered and accepted the position of railroad stock agent at St. Joseph. Later he was made stock agent for the entire road between Chicago and St. Joseph. He has seen practically all the changes in management and extension of these early railway lines until they now compose part of one of the biggest systems in the United States. Captain Davis continued for thirty-six years in the service of the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy. For a time he was under General Superintendent J. T. K. Haywood, later for a short time under C. W. Meade, and also served under General Superintendent W. C. Brown, John C. Carsons and other men whose names are household words in railroad affairs. In 1898 Captain Davis became claim agent for the road and filled that office for ten years with headquarters at St. Joseph.
During that time Judge O. M. Spencer was general solicitor of the Burlington System.
Captain Davis finally retired after more than half a century of railroad work in July, 1908, and has since lived quietly at his old home at 425 North 5th Street in Quincy. Fifty years ago he built a part of this residence, and it was subsequently enlarged and remodeled in 1876. If the experiences of Captain Davis were written out in detail it could easily be enlarged to a book, and would be a fairly complete history of railroad building and extension and operation through the Middle West. One incident that may properly be recalled even in this brief sketch is that it was under his orders that the first railroad engine was loaded on the boat Denver at St. Joseph, Missouri, to be used by General Manager H. B. Hoxey on the Union Pacific Railroad when that great transcontinental system was in course of construction.
On September 2, 1862, he was commissioned captain of Company H of the Thirty-eighth Missouri Regiment, but as his duties were already of a military character he was a captain with special detail and detached service, giving his time chiefly to duties as roadmaster. His commission as captain bears date of July 27, 1864.
At Galesburg, Illinois, in September, 1855, Captain Davis married Miss Emily Hilton. She was born in New York State, daughter of Richard Hilton, of an old family of that name in New York State. Her father was for many years a farmer at Galesburg, Illinois, and later located to Washington County, Kansas, where he died. His widow, Caroline, survived him and died at the home of Captain and Mrs. Davis in Quincy at the age of seventy-five. Both are now at rest in the cemetery at Galesburg, Illinois. Mrs. Davis died at Quincy in 1900. They had one daughter, Carrie L., who was born and reared and educated in Quincy and is now the widow of Morris F. Murphy, who died in one of the western states several years ago. Mrs. Murphy has a daughter, Anna L., who is a graduate of the Quincy High School and attended college at Galesburg. She and her mother live with Captain Davis.
Captain Davis among other property interests owns 540 acres of land in Caldwell County, Missouri, a well improved farm. For over sixty years Captain Davis has been a Mason, and is one of the oldest members of that order in the state. He took his first degrees in 1857 in a lodge in Macon County, Missouri. For over half a century his membership has been with Bodly Lodge No. 1, Ancient Free and Accepted Masons at Quincy. He entered that lodge when John Sylvester was its master. Captain Davis is also a Royal Arch Mason.
Barbara Freeman October 1999
Source: Quincy and Adams County History and Representative Men, pp 745-746; by David Wilcox. Chicago: Lewis Publishing, 1919.